School Board Calls Extra Session on Budget

Haisley parking lot project approved

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (May 25, 2011): The May 25 meeting of the AAPS board of education opened on a somber note, with board president Deb Mexicotte requesting a moment of silence to honor Huron High School junior Seth Harsch, who died Tuesday after stepping in front of a train. Mexicotte noted that crisis counselors have been on hand at Huron to offer support to students and staff, who are dealing with the loss to their community.

A handful of residents addressed the board during a public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 AAPS budget. The board will hold an additional study session on the budget on Fri., June 3 at 3:30 p.m. in the main conference room of the Balas administration building, and the public is invited.

The session will focus on prioritizing objectives, in case the finalization of the state budget leads to greater revenue for the district than initially expected. If revenue projections increase, the board may choose to restore high school busing, decrease class sizes, or make other amendments to the currently proposed budget. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for June 8.

Public commentary on the Haisley Elementary School parking lot continued. Although many of the speakers requested additional changes to the design, the board approved the proposal as it had been presented at the board’s first briefing, along with a host of other facilities improvement projects. Trustees also approved the purchase of a new standardized assessment tool, the Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment (NWEA), primarily for use in grades K-5.

Late in the meeting, which lasted over seven hours, the board engaged in a frank discussion regarding the Washtenaw Intermediate School District’s (WISD’s) budget as it relates to state reimbursement of special education services as well as local tax levies. Though trustees eventually passed a proposal in support of the budget, some board members registered strong concerns.

Finally, the board heard first briefings on a number of other items, including the 2011 millage resolution that will accompany the final budget vote, and updates on both the AAPS strategic plan and a set of board policies.

2011-12 District Budget

The school board is required to approve the 2011-12 district budget by the end of June. At last Wednesday’s meeting, interim superintendent Robert Allen provided an overview of the proposed general fund budget, noting that the district also maintains a number of more restrictive funds such as the grant fund, debt service, bond service, and the sinking fund.

Budget: Projected Revenue and Expenditures

Allen reviewed the basics of the foundation allowance – the amount AAPS receives per pupil. The allowance is currently $9,490. Of that total, $3,432 comes from business taxes, $1,234 from homeowner taxes, and $4,824 from the state. He also noted the state portion of the foundation allowance is projected to decrease by $470 next year. This will make the 2011-12 foundation allowance less than the 2001-02 allowance of $9,034, even though expenditures have increased substantially in real dollars since that time.


Interim superintendent Robert Allen, at the podium, updates the Ann Arbor Public Schools board on the budget.

In addition, Allen explained that the state retirement contribution rate will increase. This is the amount AAPS must contribute to the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System (MPSERS), and is determined by the state. It will increase from its current rate of 20.66% of total wages paid to 24.46% when the state fiscal year begins in October. Allen noted that the retirement rate is currently projected to increase to over 28% by fiscal year 2013-14.

Allen noted that after the board voted to remove principal-sharing as a budget reduction option at its last meeting, AAPS administration went back to find other places in the budget to cut. Allen reported that staff believes substitute teacher costs can be reduced by $600,000, but that still leaves a deficit of $1.73 million, which he recommends taking from fund equity, leaving a beginning fund balance for next year of $17.87 million.

Budget: No Teacher Layoffs

Allen highlighted the fact that the proposed budget does not include any teacher layoffs, because all but seven of the 70 full-time teaching positions will be reduced due to attrition. Allen explained that because of the contract requirements related to seniority, the district would need to lay off 195 teachers to then call back all but seven of them. He suggested this would be unnecessary since there was a high probability that these seven positions would be absorbed with additional retirements and separations occurring between now and the start of the next school year. Historically, Allen said, from 10-15 positions are lost through attrition over the summer months.

Budget: Study Session on Possible State Funding Increases

Gov. Rick Snyder has promised a signed state budget by the end of May, Allen said. Depending on how the state budget is finalized, Allen noted that a possibility exists for up to an additional $4 million of funding for AAPS. That $4 million total consists of a possible $2.4 million addition to the foundation allowance, and a possible $1.6 million in one-time-only incentive funding for the implementation of “best practices.” Allen noted that the district needs to get more clarification from the state to determine whether AAPS meets the “best practices” standards required for that funding.

Given this uncertainty, and the board’s goal of approving a budget at its next meeting, Allen recommended that the board hold a study session to determine its specific budget priorities once the state budget is finalized. Noting that the community has expressed concerns regarding class sizes and transportation, among other issues, Allen suggested that the study session could provide direction to administration on how to proceed in preparing the appropriate budget amendments for the second briefing scheduled for June 8.

The board agreed later in the meeting to hold a study session on Friday, June 3.

Budget: Board Questions and Responses

Trustee Andy Thomas confirmed with Allen that the projected $1.73 million deficit came from the combination of third quarter budget adjustments, additional savings in substitute teaching costs, and adding back in the effect of not sharing principals.

Trustee Glenn Nelson asked whether the district had reached its goal of bringing 170 new students to AAPS via schools of choice (SOC), since the SOC application window has closed. The proposed budget as it now stands is dependent on this 170-student increase, which would raise the total number of students to 16,739. Allen answered that he is not sure that goal will be reached, but that he would know by the time the study session takes place.

Nelson also expressed concern regarding a conference report from the state legislature that funding for half-day kindergarten students may be reduced to half the regular foundation allowance in 2012-13, making the per-pupil funding for kindergarten students proportional to the number of hours they are in school. Nelson requested that the board give some thought to what AAPS should do if that occurs – either continue to offer half-day kindergarten while receiving less money, or implement full-day kindergarten across the board and receive the full foundation allowance for each student while incurring added expenses for teaching staff.

Regarding teacher layoffs, both Nelson and Mexicotte expressed comfort with the administration’s recommendation to take no action. “When we have carried staff before to wait out an attrition cycle, we have used them for other things,” Mexicotte said. Allen agreed that these employees would be used as substitutes or in central administration depending on their skill sets.

Nelson expressed concern that building-level decisions might not be in the best interest of the district as a whole. “As we allow decentralized systems to make some of the decisions,” he argued, “we have the duty to keep to the principles of the strategic plan.” He requested that information on the degree to which decision-making is delegated to the buildings be brought to the budget study session.

Thomas questioned whether the district could consider busing students to school but not home, suggesting, “Students are going to be a lot more motivated to figure out how to get home than they will be to get to school.”

Allen responded, “I will have to check on the legality of that, but I understand that logic. We can calculate what that impact would be if we can legally do that.”

Trustee Susan Baskett cautioned, “I think it’s kind of crazy. I think we have an obligation to get them back to their homes.” But Nelson said he had followed a similar system with his own children when they were young. “As a parent,” he said, “I took my children to school and they had to walk home.”

Mexicotte asked how substitute teaching costs were reduced, and Allen explained that the solution was to assign some responsibility to administrators of individual school buildings. He suggested principals could better coordinate professional development to require fewer substitutes during instructional time, or offer it after school.

Trustee Irene Patalan closed the budget discussion with what she termed a “public service announcement,” urging community members to contact the state regarding the projected increase in retirement costs. “This is a large amount of money we have to pay that we have no say in,” she said.

Budget: Public Hearing

Four members of the public addressed the board during the public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 budget. All of the speakers were parents of current AAPS students.

Tina Richmond expressed concern about the proposed increases in class size. She reported that she does market research for a living, and that she had conducted a one-question survey to assess parents’ opinions on how to reduce expenses. The results of her survey, Richmond said, show that the majority of district parents think the money could be found in administration costs rather than teachers’ compensation.

Larry Murphy noted that the four-to-one ratio of 806 teachers to 205 support employees seems high. Regarding reductions in full-time positions, Murphy noted the proposed budget contains a reduction of 77 teaching positions but only 4 support staff positions, which is hugely disproportionate to the four-to-one ratio. He urged the board to prioritize keeping as many teachers in the classroom as possible.

Paula Brown and Scott Sproat offered comments on transportation. Brown said that the savings gained by eliminating high school busing would be equivalent to the foundation allowance of 89 students, and suggested, “I think you need to think about that.” To save on fuel costs, Sproat suggested equipping smaller, half-sized buses to serve the needs of special education students rather than full-sized buses.

Baskett encouraged additional public comment, reminding the public that the entire budget is on the district website, and available in hard copy at the Balas administration building. Mexicotte again invited the public to the study session on June 3.

2011 Summer Projects

The 2011 summer projects were fully briefed by AAPS executive director of physical properties, Randy Trent, at the board’s May 11 meeting. Of the summer projects on the extensive list, the most contentious has been the renovation of the parking lot at Haisley Elementary School. Five people spoke on that issue during time set aside for public commentary – four opposed to the redesign, and one in favor.

The only change suggested by Trent at the second briefing was to amend a typographical error on one of the bid spreadsheets, which would lead to the low bidder being Best instead of Cadillac Asphalt. Trent noted that Best will have two crews – one for the Haisley parking lot, and one for the other paving projects.

Summer Projects: Public Commentary – Haisley Parking Lot

Scott Sproat reiterated that the number one goal of the project is safety, and asked the board to consider the elimination of two islands from the design. Sproat expressed concern that the islands would “tempt” students to take shortcuts through the parking lot that would not be as safe.

Tam Perry, Kathy Greening, and Matthew Hull concurred with Sproat, arguing that removing the islands would be cheaper, safer, and would preserve more green space.

David Haig then spoke in support of the proposal. “Many people have come with opinions about safety,” he said, “but I feel like the professionals that designed this might have been competent.” Haig also expressed frustration with the concerns brought about preserving green space. “This is grass,” he said. “Not a forest. Not a wetland. The safety of the kids is more important than grass.”

Summer Projects: Board Discussion – Haisley Parking Lot

Thomas asked if there was still time in the schedule to consider the suggestions raised during public commentary.

Trent responded that the projects are currently on schedule. In response to the idea of eliminating islands in the Haisley parking lot design, Trent reported, “Our traffic engineer is adamant that removing islands would make it much less safe.”

Thomas and Mexicotte each confirmed that the traffic engineer had re-reviewed the design regarding the possible elimination of the islands, and concluded it would be better to leave them in the design. Baskett added, “The islands are there for safety. I feel safer as an able-bodied person to have islands. I can’t imagine not having them.”

Thomas noted that the board had heard from many people regarding the Haisley parking lot issue, and that while he acknowledged a difference of opinions among members of the Haisley community, he would vote according to the recommendations of the professionals.

Baskett thanked the parents who spoke up, and stated, “Just because I will vote in favor [of this proposal], does not mean I didn’t hear you … As one parent said, this is grass versus safety.”

Summer Projects: Board Discussion – Prevailing Wages

Baskett then expressed concern regarding the lack of prevailing wages in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements bid. She argued that not using prevailing wages allows a company to bring in workers who undercut the local workers’ pay and potential jobs. Outside workers don’t support the local community, she said, but “take their paychecks home and spend them there.” She concluded that not using market wages disrespects local workers, and asserted, “We are stepping backward by not doing prevailing wage.”

Mexicotte suggested that if trustees feel strongly about restricting bids from allowing the use of non-prevailing wages, the issue should be revisited through policy revisions in the future. She suggested that one or both of the board committees could examine this issue overall from a financial standpoint, rather than on a case-by-case basis.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot noted that she supports both Baskett and Mexicotte, and would like the board to take the issue of prevailing wages up in committee, so that there is consistency.

Thomas offered that his understanding of the primary role of board is to provide the best possible public school system given limited resources, and argued that the fiscal responsibility of trustees trumps any social missions they might have.

The summer projects, with the exception of the ADA improvements (SF10-010), were approved as part of the consent agenda. Baskett requested that the ADA improvements be removed from the consent agenda. They were then approved 4-2 in a separate vote, with Lightfoot and Baskett dissenting.

WISD Budget Review

Nelson reviewed the proposed 2011-12 budget of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and explained that the WISD is required to ask for input from its member districts, and member districts are required to respond. WISD is not required to act on any of the member districts’ recommendations.

He briefly reviewed the functions of the WISD, and noted that AAPS uses their facilities at no cost.

Nelson then noted that the WISD itself enrolls very few students (233, compared to 16,569 students in AAPS). Of the $87.9 million WISD budget, Nelson said, $66 million of it is transferred to its constituent districts, and approximately $22 million is spent on WISD programs.

Nelson then pointed out the use of $12 million in reserves in the proposed WISD budget. He explained that special education revenue is decreasing due to changes in federal funding, and that this is causing the rate of reimbursement by WISD to its member districts for special education services to decrease.

The current reimbursement rate for special education services is 77%, and the projected rate in 2011-12 is 73%. However, Nelson pointed out that the reimbursement rate is expected to drop dramatically in 2012-13 to 56% because the WISD’s fund equity will be nearly depleted.

Allen confirmed that the decision by the WISD to use $12 million of its reserves to maintain a higher reimbursement rate was made in order to try to “cushion the blow” to member districts as they deal with the state funding deficit. He added that as the reimbursement rate falls in coming years, districts’ obligations and expenditures related to special education will not decline. At end of the day, Allen warned, the impact will be on general fund.

Thomas asserted that there has been a “systematic de-funding of special education at the state and federal level.” He pointed out that the net reduction of funds to the WISD in 2011-12 will be $16 million, or 17% of its budget. Noting that AAPS has been frustrated with its 5% reduction in state funds, he reiterated that the reduction in the WISD’s funding “is more than 3 times what [AAPS is] suffering.”

Nelson pointed out that this is the lowest special education reimbursement rate since he’s been on the board, and suggested, “We do have tools at the local level … We have not exhausted opportunities to levy… to get this reimbursement rate up to a level consistent with history.”

Nelson summarized the WISD budget resolution as saying, “We support the budget, but we want the WISD to continue to streamline it. We also support lowering costs through sharing and cooperation, and we’d like to talk to you WISD board members, and get to know you better.”

Mexicotte pulled the WISD budget from the consent agenda for further discussion, and requested that Nelson read the entire resolution, which he did. She then expressed that she felt uncomfortable supporting WISD spending down its reserve when they chose to attempt (and succeeded at securing) a millage renewal of .985 mills instead of asking voters to support a new millage at a higher rate.

“I struggle with how they took one step, but not the best step,” Mexicotte said. “This was a missed opportunity … Many people say I’m incorrect, that we would have not gotten support if we went out for 1.5 mills, which would have been the same money, but not the same millage [rate]. We should have made the case that it was dollar for dollar, not mill for mill [As housing values have declined, assessing property owners at the same millage rate yields less in real dollars.] …I am filled with regret that we now have to fill a gap of millions of dollars in funding because we somehow couldn’t have the conversation with our community that made sense for this millage. I would like to think that in the future, that conversation could be a little more open and a little braver.”

Nelson empathized with the WISD, saying that it was “terribly hard to feel confident given the outcome of the [failed 2009] enhancement millage … A lot of us were really seared by that campaign … We got slaughtered.”

Thomas added that though he is concerned about the special education budget shortfall, he does not believe that the decision to attempt a special education millage renewal (as opposed to a new millage with a higher rate) was wrong. “There are times when half a loaf is better than none,” he asserted, especially given the “devastating consequences” that would have resulted if the millage had not passed.

Patalan added that she was glad this was being discussed, and that she was sure AAPS and its voters will do the best for its kids, as was demonstrated by strong support by AAPS district voters in both the 2009 enhancement millage and the 2011 special education millage renewal.

Nelson asserted, “Indeed, we need to be courageous and say there are tax options for revenue enhancement, and we should be open with the community at the district level. In 2004, we funded technology with the bond. Should we have a technology bond back on the ballot? Should we be going back to the community to talk about another special education millage? We should talk about it as if it’s a real, live option, rather than an eggshells option.”

The WISD budget resolution was removed from the consent agenda, and approved 5-1 in a separate vote, with Mexicotte dissenting.

Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment

AAPS interim deputy superintendent of instruction, Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, was on hand to answer questions during the second briefing on the proposed purchase of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment by AAPS.

Thomas began the discussion by asking a number of clarifying questions to address public concerns regarding the assessment, and Dickinson-Kelley answered them. He asked how long it would take for students in grades K-2 to complete (20-30 min); whether the test is age-appropriate (Yes); and, whether it replaces the MEAP (No). He also questioned how results will be used, and whether or not they will be useful for assessing teachers.

Dickinson-Kelley added that testing with the NWEA tool would take place three times a year – in the fall, early winter, and late spring. She also explained that, since the test is not state-mandated, districts have some latitude to input answers for students who are not tech-savvy.

Regarding its uses, Dickinson-Kelley said the NWEA test would be used to assess students, not teachers. She reported that guidance would be offered to teacher-leaders and principals about how to adjust instructional practice to test results.

Nelson confirmed with Dickinson-Kelley that it would take a major investment of new technology to fully implement the NWEA tool at the secondary level. He reminded everyone that the technology AAPS was able to buy with 2004 bond is now becoming inadequate and argued that the district needs to think about how to remedy that.

Lightfoot asked if there was room for rewording test items. Dickinson-Kelley noted that the test adjusts up or down in difficulty as necessary, or pulls in a different bank of questions to get at the same objective. It would not allow a teacher or test administrator to substitute a word, but the test would adjust and customize itself if a student was having difficulty.

Baskett said she was very excited about this new assessment tool, but that she wanted to be sure that in assisting students during test administration, the results are not invalidated. Dickinson-Kelley agreed. She also confirmed that the NWEA test is more timely, with teachers getting results within 24 hours.

Baskett then asked about the connection between the NWEA assessment and the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). Dickinson-Kelley said that the district’s use of the NWEA tool will prepare AAPS for the replacement of the MEAP with a national assessment by 2013 or 2014, since NWEA uses national instead of state standards.

Outcome: The purchase of the NWEA assessment tool for use with all students in grades K-5, and Scarlett students in grades 6-8 was approved as part of the consent agenda. The approved consent agenda also contained an approval of minutes and gift offers.

WISD Elections

The board is required to designate a representative to vote on Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) board members, and to provide its representative with voting directives.

This year, the WISD board has two seats opening up, and only two incumbents running to fill them – Gregory A. Peoples, and Dayle K. Wright. The election is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. on June 6, which conflicts directly with the Stone school graduation.

Mexicotte asked for the board’s thoughts on this, and the board entertained some discussion on the matter. It was eventually moved that Patalan be appointed as the AAPS representative if she determines that her presence will be necessary for the WISD to achieve quorum on the vote. Patalan also noted that she may request that the WISD change the time of the vote to 6 p.m. so that she can be on time to the Stone school graduation.

The board then directed Patalan to vote for the incumbents.

The board chose Patalan as its representative in the WISD elections, and directed her to vote for the incumbents, Peoples and Wright.

AAAA Contract Approval

Mexicotte began by saying that the board had been briefed on the tentative agreement reached in executive session with the Ann Arbor Administrators Association, the union that primarily represents AAPS principals and vice-principals. Baskett requested that Allen summarize the main points of the contract for public record.

Allen reviewed that that AAAA contract as proposed would freeze administrators’ base pay through 2013, while allowing them to move up on the salary step schedule. It would also include greater contributions to their health care costs.

Baskett noted that the district’s negotiation with the AAAA has been lengthy, and that while she supports the district negotiation team’s effort at reaching a tentative agreement, she does not believe this bargaining unit is taking an equal share of the burden. “We have heard from the community that everyone should share the pain – everyone else is sacrificing …[I] wish they had supported a reduction in their base pay.”

Thomas shared Baskett’s concern, but noted that he would support the contract, given the lengthy negotiations process.

The AAAA contract for 2009-10 through 2012-13 was approved by the board.

Third Quarter Financial Report and Millage Resolution

AAPS director of finance, Nancy Hoover, gave the board an update on the district’s third quarter financials.

Hoover also requested that the board approve the following 2011 tax millages: Homestead, 4.6912 mills; Non-Homestead, 18 mills; Debt Service, 2.1497mills; and Sinking Fund, 1 mill.

The board had no questions for Hoover regarding these proposals.

Nelson thanked Hoover for handling extra responsibilities well when Allen moved into the interim superintendent position for this year from his regular job as deputy superintendent of operations.

Outcome: This was a first briefing on these two items, both of which will return to the board for a vote at the next regular meeting.

Achievement Gap among ESL Students

During public commentary, two parents spoke, and a handful more stood in support, regarding the decreasing MEAP scores at Mitchell Elementary School as the issue relates to the school’s ESL (English as a Second Language) population. Richard Smith, a Mitchell parent, began by offering appreciation for the Mitchell staff members, who he said have a passion for excellence. But he requested that the board direct changes in the ways Title 1 funds are used to support Mitchell students. Given the increasing number of ESL students at Mitchell, which he said are now nearly 1/3 of the student population, Smith suggested offering an ESL program. He also noted that though the district provides interpreter services, the interpreter currently comes in for only two hours twice a week, which is not enough time. Finally, Smith requested the Title 1 funds be used to provide additional teacher assistants and tutors.

Jesus Martinez, also a Mitchell parent, addressed the board in Spanish, and another parent translated his remarks. Martinez noted that ESL learners at Mitchell have consistently lower test scores on the MEAP, and argued that it was the district’s responsibility to provide ESL instruction and bi-lingual help to these students. He also expressed frustration at the district’s lack of inclusion of parents who don’t speak English, saying they feel unwelcome and that their input is not valued. To illustrate this, Martinez pointed out that the parent survey concerning the lab school was administered only in English, and that translators are not present at curriculum night or parent-teacher conferences. He closed, like Smith, by requesting that some of Mitchell’s Title 1 funds be put put towards offering additional aid to ESL students and their families.

Later in the meeting, Baskett thanked the Mitchell families for coming, and said she wanted to acknowledge the effort it took for some of them to get there. Most of their concerns, she said, could be addressed during a June 15 study session that the board has scheduled specifically to address achievement issues.

Strategic Plan Updates

AAPS is the in the process of updating its strategic plan. At this meeting, the district’s director of communications, Liz Margolis, led a review of the suggested changes drafted by the strategic planning team over the past few months. Overall, she said, the team is proposing changes to three of the plan’s eight main strategies, as well as to its mission statement, objectives, beliefs, and parameters.

Changes to the mission statement focused on making it more concise and memorizable. Allen noted that he hoped these changes would help all employees to know what the mission statement is. The current statement contains a list of bullet points, but the revised version, if approved by the board, will be: “The mission of the Ann Arbor Public Schools is to ensure each student realizes his or her aspirations while advancing the common good, by creating a world-class system of innovative teaching and learning.”

In her review of proposed changes to the objectives, Margolis admitted that expecting “100% of Ann Arbor Public School students[to] exceed international standards in achievement” was “not realistic,” and said that the team suggested changing that objective to reflect that aggregate performance by AAPS students would exceed international achievement standards. She also pointed out the removal of a reference to students being “accomplished in their lifelong pursuits,” since the district does not have any mechanism in place to follow-up on students’ success once they leave the district.

Regarding the district’s beliefs, Margolis noted that most of them were left unchanged, but highlighted some clarifying language. For example, the belief currently listed as “Racism is destructive.” will become “Racism is destructive to everyone.” Finally, she pointed out the addition of new parameters to reflect the district’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, as well as the intention to align school improvement plans with the overall district strategic plan.

Margolis then introduced the leaders of the groups who had met to update three of eight main strategies of the plan – Strategies 1, 5, and 6.

Two AAPS elementary school principals, Joan Fitzgibbon and Michael Madison, introduced proposed changes to Strategy 1, which focuses on personalized learning. Fitzgibbon said, after conducting extensive research, their group was unable to define “international standards,” and suggested removal of that reference in the wording of the strategy.

Regarding implementation of strategy 1, Fitzgibbon and Madison outlined four key recommendations woven throughout their suggested action steps: (1) Ensure the high quality of teachers by refining the hiring process and incorporating parent feedback into evaluations during a teacher’s first three years in the profession; (2) Continue investigating how the International Baccalaureate could be delivered to more students; (3) Amend the structure and delivery of the curriculum to offer more options and make better use of available technology; and (4) Allow dual enrollment in AAPS and college, vocational, or distance learning programs.

Board members questioned which means of comparison the group had used to assess international standards, and Fitzgibbon assured trustees that their review had been extensive. Trustees also suggested clarifying the use of the terms “preK-14″ and “preK-12″ as referenced in the strategy in order to standardize the language used throughout the strategic plan. The term “preK-14″ alludes to the district’s responsibility to students outside of the traditional ages served by AAPS.

Next, Chuck Hatt, AAPS coordinator for literacy and social studies instruction, addressed the board regarding proposed updates to Strategy 5, which primarily deals with professional development (PD).

Hatt reviewed his group’s suggestions, including extensive revision of the wording of the strategy to clarify its meaning. He then introduced two themes that tied together most of the recommended changes in Strategy 5′s action steps: (1) PD should be functional and well-coordinated; and (2) An explicit link should be made between teacher performance and student performance.

Hatt highlighted some of the proposed recommendations, such as enhancing teacher-to-teacher mentoring, and offering opportunities for PD based on teacher suggestions. He also recommended that the district should formally evaluate its PD system.

In response to board feedback, Hatt described multiple outside resources that AAPS should consider using, such as those created by Adaptive Schools , and Critical Friends. He also suggested that AAPS should put together a graphic such as the award-winning one created by Chapel Hill-Carborro City schools which links PD activities to district goals. Baskett requested a copy of the graphic, which Hatt said he would provide to the board.

Finally, the board heard from Sara Aeschbach, AAPS director of community education and recreation, who reviewed a multitude of changes and additions to Strategy 6, which primarily addresses communication between groups within AAPS and engagement with the wider community.

Aeschbach reviewed the many accomplishments of the district under this strategy since implementation of the strategic plan in 2007, including establishment of the Village Fund, UMS and Google AdWords community partnerships, and the implementation of PowerSchool and SchoolMessenger software to enhance communication with parents. However, she said, her group found many ways that communication and community engagement could be improved more. The overall goal of the group’s revisions to Strategy 6, Aeschbach said, was the support two-way communication as much as possible.

Aeschbach suggested that the district enable additional features of PowerSchool, and be consistent in how it communicates important messages. She also recommended ZingTrain customer service training, and more effective involvement of parent groups and volunteers throughout the district.

Margolis then wrapped up the overall presentation on strategic plan updates and opened up the floor for board feedback. Patalan remarked on how exciting it is that the plan has truly been used to guide the district, but in addition to her praise Baskett expressed concern about accountability. “Thank you for the good work,” she said, but added that she’d like to see action steps in the plan assigned to specific staff members for completion. “To the public,” Baskett said, “without the assignment, it’s just talk.”

Margolis responded that after the board approves the proposed updates to the plan, it will fall to incoming superintendent Patricia Green to assign each line of the plan to an administrator.

Mexicotte expressed pleasure at both the accomplishments of the plan to date, as well at the prospective nature of the remaining and newly-proposed objectives. In response to Baskett’s concerns about accountability, she suggested the creation of an executive summary of accomplishments to complement the line item assignments.

Nelson noted that he was gratified that top level administrators were able to complete such a comprehensive and useful review of the strategic plan this year under the direction of Allen as an interim superintendent.

Lightfoot suggested that the strategic planning process could be a model for how to create a detailed achievement plan that could be as “proudly touted” as the strategic plan, saying “I look forward to actually putting the document in place to match the words we continue to profess.”

Outcome: These updates to the strategic plan were brought the board as a first briefing item, and will be voted on at the next regular meeting on June 8.

Policy Updates

The board reviewed suggested updates from the performance committee to five of its policies – 6000 (Core curriculum), 6140 (Homework), 6190 (Controversial issues), 6500 (Non-K12 Education), and 7350 (Volunteers).

Core Curriculum Policy

A minor revision to the curriculum policy (6000) was suggested to ensure that all teachers – not only new teachers – are monitored regarding implementation of the curriculum.

Homework Policy

The homework policy (6140) was amended to suggest that “homework can be made more relevant when connected to students real life experiences.” Baskett noted that the policy refers to research from the year 2000, and asked whether the recommendations of this research are still relevant or outdated.

Dickinson-Kelley acknowledged that some current research calls into question whether homework is a value-added experience for students, but that in general, research on homework validates this policy as it’s currently written.

Mexicotte added that a new literature review might change the policy, and Baskett suggested that such a review might be useful. She noted that the district is often out of compliance with this policy, in that many students are given homework in excess of the time guidelines spelled out in the policy (i.e., a total of 10 minutes times a student’s grade level per weeknight is suggested as an appropriate amount for middle school students).  Dickinson-Kelley stressed that the policy only suggests guidelines, not minimum or maximum quotas.

Baskett then suggested adding an element to the policy that ensures parents are given tools, such as training currently offered in Everyday Math, to assist their children in completing homework. Mexicotte countered that it is not appropriate to include such elements in the policy, as the board “is not the boss of parents.”

Controversial Issues Policy

Thomas reported that after discussing this policy at length, the performance committee decided it is good as it currently stands. The committee’s discussion focused on parent suggestions that they be allowed to opt their children out of certain classes if they particularly object to a topic being taught, such as sexual education. Thomas reported that AAPS administration had advised the committee that opt-out options would be very problematic, and so the committee decided against including such provisions.

Baskett questioned the utility of including a section on definitions (section 3) if no definitions are included under the header. Thomas said the committee had tried to define “controversial issues” but could not. “Our thinking was that it is too difficult to define this in such a way that the definition would really have any meaning,” he said. Baskett then recommended striking the “Definitions” section heading.

Non-K12 Education Policy

Recommendations to the board policy on Non-K12 education included language changes to bring it up to date with current federal regulations, and clarification that oversight of the policy falls under the district-level deputy superintendent of instructional services.

Baskett suggested striking “by the office of PD and growth” in section 7.1 since that office no longer exists in AAPS.

Volunteer Policy

The board wordsmithed the volunteer policy to bring it into line with current practice regarding who is required to obtain background checks before working with students. Thomas explained that the policy distinguishes between regular contact and incidental contact, and currently requires anyone having even incidental contact with students to have a background check performed. The performance committee recommended a revision to the policy which would change “at any time” to “as part of the activity” in order to clarify the type of incidental contact which would require a background check.

The board also clarified that only those volunteers having direct contact with students – not all volunteers – need to be placed under direct supervision of a teacher or administrator.

Outcome: These policy updates will be voted on after a second briefing at the next regular meeting.

Board Committee Reports

The school board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

There was no report from the planning committee at this meeting, as they have not met since the last board meeting. Nelson offered a brief report from the performance committee, saying that they had spent their last meeting on the policy review described above. He also mentioned that a student had attended the last performance committee meeting, and that that they had enjoyed the student’s input into the discussion.

Association Reports

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At the May 25 meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, the AAAA, and the PTOC.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Aoxue Tang, a junior from Pioneer gave the Youth Senate report. Regarding proposed budget cuts, she argued that students should be invited into more discussions surrounding the budget. She also announced that the Youth Senate would match parent donations to AAPS if such donations totaled $1,000 or more.

Tang then announced “Dodging Poverty,” a Dodge Ball tournament to be held in June to help homeless and impoverished youth in Washtenaw county. Lastly, she noted that Community Volunteer Teams would be enacted again this summer to place students at non-profits over the summer.

Association Reports: AAPAC

Barb Byers addressed the board on behalf of the AAPAC. She thanked deputy superintendent of student intervention and support services Elaine Brown for coordinating an assistive technology (AT) open house, noting that AT plays a crucial role in bringing the general education curriculum to differently-abled students. She also thanked AAPS administration for listening to concerns about using a personalized curriculum to meet graduation requirements, and requested that information on creating a personalized curriculum be given to all parents.

Byers then expressed support for Randy Trent and the Haisley principal regarding the creation of the new parking lot plan, which she said addresses the extra safety considerations of special needs students.

As school year draws to a close, Byers noted, thoughtfully planned transitions play a crucial role in getting special education students set up for success the next year. Transition planning allows parents to know how to support children from the first day of school, and includes meeting new teachers, and trying out new technology.

Finally, Byers congratulated special education staffer Sandy Bromley on her retirement, and thanked her for her many years of service. She also thanked special education staffer Bill Harris for his service as he moves on to his new position as principal of Eberwhite Elementary School, and wished all new principals well at their new positions.

Association Reports: AAAA

Michael Madison spoke for the administrators’ union. “Our focus remains improved student achievement for all students,” he said. He then said that AAPS is lucky to have such a dedicated board, and encouraged board members to attend the many end-of-the-year community events, graduations, and ice cream socials: “Check in so that we can publicly acknowledge your presence.”

Association Reports: PTOC

Martine Perreault reported the PTOC’s election results, highlighting that Donna Lasinski will be the group’s chairperson. She noted that May 2-6 is teacher appreciation week, and recognized the efforts of AAPS PTOs who thanked their teachers and staff.

Perreault reported that 89% of AAPS school PTOs participated in the PTOC this year, and welcomed them all back next. She also thanked the board for contributing so much to the district during trying times.

Finally, Perreault invited the public to follow state of Michigan actions on a daily basis via Twitter @PTOCouncil and @PTOChair, and Mexicotte encouraged the public to communicate with the Michigan department of education as well as their legislative representatives on the issues of state funding of education.

Awards and Accolades

The May 25 meeting included a number of special presentations honoring staff and students.

Celebration of Excellence Awards

Mike Derhammer, a fifth/sixth-grade teacher at Ann Arbor Open, and Christy Garrett, a business teacher at Huron each received a Celebration of Excellence award at this meeting. Derhammer was honored for his impact on kids’ “learning, self-confidence, their understanding of their place in the world, and their responsibility to give back.” Many of his students surrounded him as he accepted his award, holding a hand-drawn banner reading “Congratulations!!! Mike Rocks.”


Mike Derhammer's students congratulated him on his Celebration of Excellence award.

Garrett was commended for her excellence in teaching as well as for her “zest in preparing students to compete and win consistently at local, state and national levels.” Upon accepting her award, Garrett remarked that she was raised by a single mom who modeled the importance of learning every day, and that she wished her mom could be here to see her receiving this honor. She also thanked AAPS’ elementary teachers for preparing students to succeed in higher level classes later in their school years.

Superintendent’s Report

Allen reported that Pioneer has won the 2011 national Grammy award, along with $15,000, and that this is the only time that a school has won it twice in Grammy history. He also noted that many high school seniors were awarded scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $2,500, and that 14 of the 16 graduating seniors from Roberto Clemente have been accepted to college.

Allen commended the efforts of students at Scarlett’s portfolio day, as well as Pioneer’s drafting and architecture students, and Community’s mock trial team. He encouraged the public to view the art of AAPS art teachers now on exhibit at the UM Work gallery on State St, and wished all district retirees the best of times in their retirement.

Public Commentary on Class Offerings

Merla Steltmann, an exchange student from Germany currently studying at Huron, addressed the board during public commentary, acknowledging and offering her appreciation for the many opportunities to take classes here that are not available elsewhere.

Agenda Planning

The board held a substantial discussion on whether or not they should hold an exit interview for Robert Allen as he transitions from the interim superintendency back into his regular role as deputy superintendent of operations.

Though there was immediately general support for the suggestion of holding such a meeting, there was some debate over its format and content. Some trustees suggested that the point of such a review would be to provide Allen with a formal review of his work as superintendent for use in future job searches. Others suggested the goal should be to receive feedback from Allen on how to work best with the incoming superintendent.

In the end, Mexicotte suggested that an informal evaluation of Allen be done so that the discussion could be contained under the rubric of an executive session. Allen’s feedback to the board could be done as part of that discussion. The executive session could be scheduled sometime during June. She also noted that the board always has the option of releasing a public statement of appreciation for an employee’s work with the district, and that they could choose to release a summary of the fine work that Allen has performed in his role this year.

The board also agreed to add a study session on June 3 to discuss the budget. This session will begin at 3:30 p.m., and will be held at the Balas administration building at 2555 S. State St. The public is invited.

Finally, Mexicotte suggested the board needs to set aside time to discuss how the district can best position itself to receive the one-time “best practice” funding being offered by the state, as well as how to address the upcoming changes to the foundation allowance for half-day kindergarten students. She assigned the executive committee to review whether these discussions could be bundled with the budget study session on June 3, or whether they should be part of a separate, additional study session later in the month.

Items from the Board

Simone Lightfoot reported having visited a middle college in Flint, which she encouraged AAPS administrators to visit, particularly to debunk the idea that parental involvement is required to ensure secondary student success.

Nelson reported having joyfully attended a smattering of community events including a breakfast at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, The Neutral Zone’s Breakin’ Curfew talent show, the AAPS retirees’ reception, the student and teacher art shows, Scarlett’s portfolio day, and the AAPS homebuilding program banquet.

Baskett requested that the administration provide the following data to the board: the complete number of staff requirements; current number of staff by race and gender; and the number of suspensions from this year. She also suggested that the board might want to review guidelines for school visits, noting that some are easier to visit than others. Finally, she encouraged the public to press members of the state board of education to share their stance on the current budget proposal being considered by the state legislature. “I want to know,” Baskett questioned, “if the state board can’t stand for us and our children, why are they there?”

Baskett closed by urging graduating seniors to “be careful, be safe, have fun, so when you look back on this [time], it can be memorable and not tragic.”

Thomas reported that Scarlett’s portfolio day was amazing, and that students were very polished and well-prepared. “Of the five students I interviewed,” he said, “I would have hired any one of them.” He also expressed pride at the percentage of Roberto Clemente graduating seniors who are going on to college (87.5%) and thanked everyone at Roberto Clemente for their hard work.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice-president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot, and Glenn Nelson.

Absent: Trustee Christine Stead

Next regular meeting: June 8, 2011, 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

Study session on the budget: June 3, 2011, 3:30 p.m. in the main conference room of the Balas administration building, 2555 S. State. [confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Peter Zetlin
    May 31, 2011 at 6:52 am | permalink

    The process conducted by the AAPS board for the Haisley lot is worth another look. After attending three public meetings at Haisley, here’s what I came away with.

    Public participation in the Haisley parking lot expansion began with a meeting at which the Haisley principal, Mary Anne Jaeger, proposed using funds from the proceeds of a 2004 millage to increase the size of the parking lot. Quite a few people opposed a larger lot, and at the second public meeting, Ms. Jaeger repurposed the lot expansion as a safety issue. Ms. Jaeger had been quite clear in the first meeting that the staff and parents all wanted more parking. She commented on how unfair it was that a teacher who zipped out at noon to get a fast food hamburger might loose their parking spot and have to park on the street one block from their classroom.

    It’s a long story and there was a lot of fact twisting by the Haisley administration in support of their desire for more parking. For me, the bottom line was that a school system that faces having to get by on less money has chosen to spend some of their resources on the unnecessary expansion of their parking lot.

    There is a lot of parking adjacent to the school and teachers and parents can easily park within one block of the school. The AAPS board had the opportunity to show leadership by supporting a tiny walk versus a larger parking lot. The board decided in favor of cars.

    I’ve written to the board several times and no board member has acknowledged their role in this flawed process. I want to support education, but I have difficult supporting the current AAPS board.